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Building a pipeline of business talent

When Jamie Farmer started Grow NZ Business his aim was a one-stop shop for Kiwi business owners to help take the complexity out of business growth.

That was in July 2017, the same year he undertook an executive MBA at the University of Auckland Business School. After 22 years with General Electric, then another few with Westpac, he acknowledges he was “over corporate life”.

He says he’s always been “the fix it guy”. “A desire to help is part of who I am. I knew it was time for me to build my own company, so I started one that helps other business owners flourish.

“I like helping small businesses. Often, they are time poor and not sure how to access important advice. And advice is often missing or it’s too basic like, you should cut costs or grow revenue,” he says.

With hundreds of clients already using Grow NZ Business’s services, Jamie urgently needed talented employees to tackle the growing workload.

He decided to recruit from a pool of final-year students at the University of Auckland Business School, an initiative he says has allowed him to harvest the country’s upcoming best business talent at a fraction of the usual cost.

“We pay all our interns, but not what we would have to if they were experienced workers. We love having them, not just because they are way more cost-effective, but also for their energy and enthusiasm,” he says.

Most of Jamie’s interns have marketing majors, but he has employed a software engineer too, and sees scope for other majors as well as the needs of the business grows.

“One of the biggest benefits is interns have fresh eyes, untainted by corporate experience.”
The model has proved so successful that he is about to take on more.

Two previous interns, Anna Sviridora and Rachel Yeu, graduate this week from the University of Auckland; Anna with a Masters of Marketing and Rachel with a Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree. Both feel strongly that interning provided them with invaluable industry experience.

Russian-born Anna, who arrived in New Zealand to pursue postgraduate study, says “being able to align her classes with practising her marketing skills was the best way to learn. It was engaging and exciting and has helped me on my journey to become a digital analyst designing user experiences.”

For Rachel, interning helped her to understand the reality of working for a digital company which, she says “is really relevant in today’s world”. Having now moved on to a bigger role at Vodafone she says the experience was “a steep learning curve, which introduced me to new business ideas.”

Another of his early graduate recruits, Georgia Vidal, has gone on to start a one-stop online marketing business. Launched in February this year, DIY Digital Marketing helps businesses with e-commerce and growth orientated marketing.

“Your website is your store front. It needs to be well executed. Many businesses have great design but don’t know how to maximise their search engine optimisation (SEO). Load speed, the right key words, your html site map, these all matter,” says Georgia.

She says 65 percent of New Zealand websites don’t have the five critical things for proper SEO.

“If you’re not promoting your products and services online with an easy to find, efficient website, customers won’t be able to find your business,” she says.

“The difference in Georgia in 18 months is visible,” says Jamie. Many graduates start their careers in quite junior roles. Georgia has already been exposed to market research, financial modelling, project management and perhaps most importantly, Lean Start Up methodology, which in turn helps Georgia help her clients. The breadth of exposure has seen Georgia’s confidence and capability grow rapidly, from understanding theory as a result of her academic studies to being able to apply this knowledge in real life commercial situations.”

The interns usually stay for up to a year. “Some have been with us seven, eight, or ten months. There is no set time,” he says. We work with our interns on two key deliverables, they must add value to our clients (and therefore our business) and we must add value to our interns, via real-life commercial experience.

Jamie ensures they all work flexibly, around exams, offsite from home, then full time when they are able. “Rachel even worked from Malaysia when she went home for her holidays,” he says.

“It feels like a natural extension to help develop new business leaders just leaving business school,” he says. “Building a pipeline of new business talent is another way I can give back. And we are looking forward to New Zealand businesses being able to harness and help grow the exceptional talent that is coming through.”

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